The leader-people debate is to be seen against the ground situation in Kashmir and the actions of its two neighbours, overt as well as covert!
Some time back a debate had started regarding the “leaders” and the “people”. There were many opinions about one having let down the other. Some observed that the Kashmiri people had let down their leaders. Others said that the leaders had let down the people. The trigger for the debate was probably the general feeling that the popular movement in Kashmir is not moving forward and has got stagnated. Well, that is far from the truth. Kashmir’s movement is probably in the strongest and the final phase at the present time. The strength of the movement can be judged from the fact that even the so called mainstream parties which have always claimed Kashmir to be an integral part of India are these days professing for their acceptability, what has been given the name of “Soft Separatism”! As a friend recently remarked, resistance is like water it circulates everywhere and slowly rises to its own level. The alienation of the people especially the new generation is at its peak. During the entire history of the movement for last 69 years there has never been so much wide spread resistance. It does not matter if the resistance does not expose itself widely. There is inherent resistance which manifests itself whenever it gets the chance.
For the sake of comparison let us take the general conditions of mid-seventies and now. There was no apprehension to security forces from any civilians during those days. In fact, there was a kind of bonhomie. A large number of security officers from all the services used to live in the posh localities of Srinagar in rented houses. People could freely enter any security area such as cantonments, army and security camps etc. In fact, children used to cross from Gupkar to Batwara through the Badami Bagh Cantonment on bicycles to go to school. Now one cannot imagine crossing the area even in a government vehicle. Many civilians were regular invitees to Army and Air Force messes on various occasions. Sometime back, a friend related that a Brigadier friend of his told him that he used to go every day to a popular bakery on Maulana Azad Road to buy bread but not now. If he wanted to do that now, he would have to take a platoon of soldiers to ensure his personal security! No doubt there has been a massive security upgrade after the outbreak of militancy of nineties. Even though now the overall situation generally appears peaceful, yet the atmosphere of seventies with its bonhomie is missing.
The security on way to the airport and at the terminal itself has been rated the strictest in the world! In no airport in the entire world passengers and their baggage is screened more than a kilo-meter before the entry to the terminal building. This aspect has been recently highlighted in the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism report on bottlenecks for developing International Tourism to Kashmir. No doubt the US airports have now most notorious body searches and security drills but the security at Srinagar tops all these. In fact, every arriving passenger after leaving the airport sees a kilometer long line of security vehicles waiting outside for protected passengers!
As regards the presence of soldiers, Kashmir has been described as the most militarized place on Earth. Almost a million soldiers, para-military and other security personnel. Almost every locality has security presence as bunkers and camps. It looks like a huge prison. The Independence Day and the Republic Day are two ordeals for the local people. However, they have got used to all these restrictions and hardly take notice. It is part of the life here!
Regarding the freedom of expression, the less said the better. The phrase has probably disappeared from our lexicon. No public meetings or marches are allowed even if these are non-political. Even people demanding wages or protesting against power shortage are dispersed violently. Some religious processions like the Muharram tazias have been disallowed for decades now. Some leaders are perpetually under house arrest while some others have been under detention for years together. One of the leaders who has been repeatedly asked to be released by the State High Court has been slapped 31 times the draconian Public Safety Act! Truth along with accountability seems to have been banished from Kashmir. The suppression of basic human rights has been globally taken up by various organisations. Still it hardly makes any difference.
Personal security has surpassed everything. Bullet proof cars, jammers, escort vehicles, security at home and then personal security officers for every tom, dick and harry! Even people who fought elections quite some time back have personal security officers. Some retired officials too have personal security officers, escorts and home security. All these security measures and means to suppress the truth cost huge amounts to the Government. The security related and defence expenses run into billions of rupees. The intelligence agencies of both the countries spend billions to tailor various political streams to their view point. In fact, India is economically bleeding through Kashmir. Some years back during a mass upheaval in the State, an RSS ideologue, Thakur, had opined that India should dis-invest Kashmir. The overall uncertainty caused in the entire sub-continent due to the Kashmir problem has shied away billions of dollars of Non Resident Indian Investment from the country.
In view of these facts, the question as to who has let down who seems totally irrelevant. The real question should be about the unity of leadership. That is the most important and the most relevant thing at the moment. Why don’t the leaders unite if the goal is same? Why there have to be dozens of parties led by dozens of leaders, even more? Incidentally, the popular movement and the peoples’ resistance are strong as ever. This is in spite of the disunity of the leadership! The new generation follows ideology and convictions. They are leaders in themselves. They have given up the personality cult which has been plaguing every sphere of life in Kashmir for ages.
As regards, violent incidents and new breed of militants, this is a natural process. When suppression exceeds limits and there is total clampdown on any kind of free expression, violence is the natural outcome. There is no need for anyone to tell people to take up a gun. There is a universal saying that violence begets violence. However, violence does not solve issues but compounds these! The only practical and sensible way to solve all the problems whether of leadership or the final solution to the decades old dispute is dialogue among all the stake holders. However, the first right is of the people inhabiting the land and living in an atmosphere of uncertainty for the last 68 years. They are the main party! Without their participation no solution will endure!